The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that 15-20 percent of the world’s food is produced in cities. Reasons for urban production vary, but include subsistence, the need and desire for improved food access, capitalism or “ideology.”
Elizabeth Royte (@ElizabethRoyte) poses some compelling questions about urban food production:
“How far — and in what direction — can this trend go? What portion of a city’s food can local farmers grow, at what price, and who will be privileged to eat it? And can such projects make a meaningful contribution to food security in an increasingly crowded world?”
The USDA doesn’t track urban farming per se, but it’s clear from demand for services and through other metrics that the model is growing.
Despite their relatively small size, urban farms grow a surprising amount of food, with yields that often surpass those of their rural cousins. This is possible for a couple reasons. First, city farms don’t experience heavy insect pressure, and they don’t have to deal with hungry deer or groundhogs. Second, city farmers can walk their plots in minutes, rather than hours, addressing problems as they arise and harvesting produce at its peak. They can also plant more densely because they hand cultivate, nourish their soil more frequently and micromanage applications of water and fertilizer.
Royte has written a significant piece for Ensia. The story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative news organization. The story discusses urban agriculture within an international and national context, and features what are almost case studies of various urban agriculture operations around the U.S. Royte also delves into community gardening in urban settings, and the relationship between volunteer and commercial efforts. This is a must-read piece.